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Pitt Investigation into Rare Blood Disorder Cluster Expands to Question Family Members

PITTSBURGH, May 2, 2012 - An investigation into a potential cluster of a rare and mysterious blood disorder in eastern Pennsylvania has led University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) scientists to expand their questioning to next-of-kin.
 
GSPH investigators will visit Carbon, Luzerne and Schuylkill counties to evaluate whether there is an abnormal incidence of a rare blood disorder that leads to blood clots, heart attacks and strokes. This will be one of the last in a series of visits that started in 2009, so scientists are urging anyone who still needs to be interviewed to come forward.
 
“We need to talk to all residents or surviving family members who have been diagnosed with polycythemia vera (PV) and related blood disorders known as myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs),” said Jeanine Buchanich, Ph.D., deputy director of epidemiology for GSPH’s Center for Occupational Biostatistics and Epidemiology. “While other studies have indicated a higher incidence of these disorders in this tri-county region, it’s important that we determine the true number of cases.”
 
PV is a rare illness that causes the body to produce too many red blood cells. The condition is uncomfortable and can cause hands to become red and hot. The primary treatment is regular phlebotomy, where blood is removed from the patient and discarded.
 
PV is believed to be caused by a genetic mutation. However, patients are not born with the mutation, leading scientists to believe that environmental exposure to benzene, petroleum products or radiation could be a factor. 
 
MPNs include blood disorders or blood cancers, such as essential thrombocythemia (ET), primary myelofibrosis (PMF) and chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).
 
“If research indicates a cluster of PV or MPNs, then experts may be able to identify a common source,” said Buchanich.
 
The area is home to several brownfields, including a former waste coal-fired power plant identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a superfund site.
 
This research study is funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), and is scheduled to conclude in September 2012.
 
Investigators are looking to question people in the tri-county area who have been diagnosed with PV between 2006 and 2009, or with ET, PMF or CML between 2001 and 2009. They also would like to interview the families of deceased people who fit those qualifications.
 
Investigators and staff will be available at the following locations:
 
At the Pennsylvania Department of Health Center in Pottsville:
  • 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday, May 8
  • 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesday, May 9

At the Pennsylvania Department of Health Center in Wilkes-Barre:

  • 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday, May 9

At Hazelton General Hospital, Business &Education Building, Library Room, first floor:

  • 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday, May 8
  • 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday, May 9
  • 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Thursday, May 10

Study participants may be compensated for their time.

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